An Israeli high school student has won first prize in the international competition First Step to Nobel Prize in Physics this year.

The winning research paper, by Yuval Katzenelson of Kiryat Gat, is titled "Kinetic energy of inert gas in a regenerative system of activated carbon." The paper is the result of a year's work at Ben-Gurion University's Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center.

"Katzenelson's achievement places Israel first in the world, in a prestigious international contest," said Prof. Victor Malamud, director of physics at the Ramon Center.

"The competition has been held for 20 years, with some 80 countries competing for the top place. This is a fantastic accomplishment," Malamud said at a festive event held on campus yesterday for the teenagers from the south who won prizes in the competition.

Katzenelson was one of 16 high school students who worked on physics projects at the center, 12 of whom won prizes for their projects.

High school students from some 80 countries submit research projects in physics to the annual competition, which was established and is based in Poland.

In 2007 the United States won the first prize and Israel ranked seventh. In 2009 Mor Tzaban of Netivot won first prize. Since then the Israeli team has won eight more prizes.

This year Israeli high school students netted a total of 14 prizes, 12 of them by students from the south who studied at the Ramon Center, and two others by two Netanya girls.

Apart from first prize, nine Israeli students won second prize, one student won a third and another won a fourth.

"We worked on the project for a whole year and got excellent results," said Katzenelson. His prize is a month of scientific research in Poland as well as 500 euros for expenses.

"This year we came ahead of countries like the United States, Singapore and Iran," noted Malamud.

Tamar Namir, a high school student from Netivot, was one of the students who won second place. Mai Alon, also of Netivot, won third place.

"It's a wonderful feeling. We waited for it a long time and it's great to see results after so much effort," said Alon.

"The young students of Netivot have proved their ability both as individuals and as part of a team, they have won prizes in this category already," said Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar. "Netivot is becoming a physics power. We intend to continue this tradition and strengthen excellence in the town's high schools." The subject matter of the papers submitted to the competition is not restricted, providing it is based on research and deals with physics or topics directly related to physics. The papers are evaluated by a panel appointed by the competition's organizers.

The integration of the Ramon Center in Ben-Gurion University's physics building has significantly upgraded the quality of physics instruction for teenagers, enabling hands-on learning experience for some 8,000 youngsters from southern Israel, the university said.